Infusion of Nearly $35.4 Million in Grant Funding to Support Roswell Park Research

Awards from federal agencies, foundations fuel projects in immunotherapy, population science, several cancer types
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute have received nearly $35.4 million in grant awards this year. These awards from federal agencies and private foundations include support for an investigation of a new way to improve immunotherapy against ovarian cancer, a highly aggressive and hard-to-treat cancer that accounts for a disproportionate number of cancer deaths.

Danuta Kozbor, PhD, Associate Professor of Immunology and Microbiology, and Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Deputy Director, Chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy, received a three-year, $771,750 award from the U.S. Department of Defense. Their study will explore whether a class of drug candidates known as CXCR4 antagonists can be used to boost the efficacy of immunotherapy for ovarian cancer.

Gal Shafirstein, DSc, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cell Stress Biology and Director of Photodynamic Therapy Clinical Research, received a five-year, $278,707 subcontract award from the University at Buffalo for collaborative work with Anthony Campagnari, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences University at Buffalo. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders provided this award for evaluating how photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used to target infections. PDT uses laser light to trigger cell death in cancer cells that have been treated with light-sensitizing drugs, a method that was pioneered at Roswell Park. This study focuses on using PDT against a bacterium related to ear infections. If successful, it is possible that this technology could be adapted for use in cancer patients, who are highly susceptible to infections that can be life-threatening and may not respond to antibiotics.

Fumito Ito, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Surgical Oncology and the Center for Immunotherapy, received two grants to continue his work in immunotherapy with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) — adult stem cells reprogrammed to function like embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into a wide range of tissues. A one-year, $43,729 award from the American College of Surgeons will support the development of a way to generate patient- and tumor-specific T cells from human iPSCs and to determine their therapeutic potential against autologous tumor. The other grant, a three-year $198,148 award from the Melanoma Research Alliance, supports preclinical tests to assess the safety and therapeutic efficacy of regenerated melanoma-targeted T cells derived from iPSCs.

Joseph Tario Jr., PhD, Senior Flow Cytometry Specialist, received a one-year, $105,907 grant from the International Myeloma Foundation to characterize a flow-cytometric assay designed to detect minimal residual disease in bone marrow samples in patients with multiple myeloma.

Maciej Goniewicz, PhD, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Health Behavior, received a two-year, $66,087 subcontract award from the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation, part of a larger award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop a new method of evaluating the relative abuse liability of electronic cigarettes in adolescents.

Sharon Evans, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Immunology, received a one-year, $50,000 grant from the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester for her investigation of newly discovered roadblocks that prevent cancer-killing immune cells from gaining access to breast tumor targets.

Sergei Kurenov, MS, Assistant Professor of Oncology and Director of Surgical Simulation, received a one-year, $38,086 subcontract grant from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to participate in the development of a virtual environment platform to enhance education, practice and research in clinical pharmacology.

Xuefang Cao, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Immunology, received a one-year, $23,376 award from the American Association of Immunologists (AAI). The grant, a 2016 AAI Careers in Immunology Fellowship, will support predoctoral student Wei Du’s investigation of the role of an enzyme known as granzyme B in allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation, a treatment used for some blood cancers.

Junko Matsuzaki, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Center for Immunotherapy and Director of the Immune Analysis Facility, received a six-month, $20,000 grant from Ono Pharmaceuticals to evaluate the immunotherapeutic effect of the protein known as EP4 on certain immune cells.

Additionally, Roswell Park researchers received another $33.8 million in grants highlighted in a May 2016 announcement from Congressman Brian Higgins. Details about these eight projects, all federally funded grants from National Institutes of Health (NIH) agencies:

  • Andrew Hyland, PhD, Chair of the Department of Health Behavior, will receive an anticipated $17.7 million over nine years from the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the ongoing Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, a longstanding effort to document and interpret tobacco use being led by Westat of Rockville, Md.
  • Martin Morgan, PhD, Associate Member of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, received a five-year, $7.8 million award from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to continue development and dissemination of the Bioconductor Project, which helps researchers summarize the vast volumes of data elicited from decoding cancer tumor DNA and apply it improve medical care.
  • Mukund Seshadri, DDS, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the departments of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Head and Neck Surgery, received two prestigious “R01” research grants to develop novel imaging methods and treatments for oral/head and neck cancers — a five-year, $2.1 million award from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and a four-year, $1.5 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
  • John Subjeck, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Oncology in the Department of Cell Stress Biology, received a five-year, $1.6 million R01 award from the NCI to continue his work using large heat-shock proteins to improve cancer therapy.
  • Dominic Smiraglia, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics, received a five-year, $1.93 million R01 grant from the NCI to test a new combination therapy intended to prevent prostate cancer recurrence.
  • Leigh Ellis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, received a two-year, $581,378 grant from the NCI for efforts to discover the genetic switches that drive aggressive forms of prostate cancer and identify biomarkers that could determine the aggressive potential of a patient’s disease much earlier.
  • James Mohler, MD, Associate Director, Senior Vice President for Translational Research and Chair of Urology, received a two-year, $416,398 award from the NCI to identify a small molecule that can prevent testosterone production by prostate cancer tissue — a key reason why advanced prostate cancer overcomes standard hormonal therapy.

In all, these grants awarded to Roswell Park researchers from January to June 2016 total nearly $35.4 million.

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The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, RPCI is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit www.roswellpark.org, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email askrpci@roswellpark.org. Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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